Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Ask Polly: I Am Severely Chafed By My Gentle, Compassionate Boyfriend

FROSTYDear Polly,

I feel sick just writing this, and I don't want to lose something good, so here goes:

I'm a 34-year-old single mother of a beautiful, sweet, and healthy three-year-old boy. I never imagined having kids, but accidentally became pregnant three months into a destructive relationship. I kept the child and eventually got rid of the man (with the help of a domestic violence counselor and a restraining order), which was a healthy decision.

You see, healthy decisions are not my forte. With a few exceptions, I usually date the damaged bad boy, the alcoholic who needs rescuing, or the tortured artist. I scrapped all that when I had my son, and haven't dated since removing baby daddy from my life 2 years ago. Until recently.

Five months ago, I met a man at my sister's wedding (one of the groomsmen), and we connected. Talked all night, laughing like crazy, connected. We hugged briefly at the end of the evening and we both felt it was worth pursuing. He lives 1400 miles away from me, and we began an email correspondence, sharing our relationship history, likes and dislikes, and getting to know each other. We have a lot in common. We fell in love. We made plans for him to relocate to my city and move in together. We decided all this before spending a great deal of physical time with each other. He's visited once a month for the past five months, and the trips have gone from elated, nervous excitedness to awkward arguing and annoyance. He is sensitive, kind, attentive, and doting. He is so very patient and loving with my child. Because of these traits, I find myself feeling less attracted to him physically. He seems meek. It is truly something sick. I have a hard time looking at him on occasion, because every little quiver, every timid step, every noise he makes while eating makes my skin crawl. He follows me around and paws at me. He is far less experienced than I am in the bedroom, and yet I do not know how to let him know what I like, because he is not keeping up with me in that department.

I don't have a lot going on, aside from an unsatisfying job, my son, and my love of animals. I don't have the financial resources to pursue hobbies or interests, and this man offers stability. I love him, but I'm not sure why I'm so uncontrollably moody around him, and why he has turned me off. He is so gentle—the gentle man I always thought I wanted, because underneath it all I'm gentle, too—but I'm pushing away and I don't know if I love myself enough to make this work. I have tried talking to him about this and he just apologizes and says he feels out of his element. He picks up on my annoyance which makes him feel uncomfortable, which triggers a neediness, which I find unattractive. I don't want my son to have a bad boy for a father figure, but I don't want to resent my lover over petty things. Are these petty things? Is love about being able to be annoyed by someone, and loving them anyway? I tell myself that I have a good man—and I don't want to lose him—but how can I really snap out of this? I feel terrible, ungrateful, and confused.

Thanks for listening.


Dear Annoyed,

You are accustomed to being ignored, dismissed, and listened to only in the most cursory fashion, so this man who adores you, listens closely, and tries very hard to please seems unlovable. He seems unlovable because he makes you aware of yourself. When you're chasing a guy who's distracted, uninterested, dismissive, you are blissfully unaware of yourself, lost in the chase, trying to get him to love you. When someone loves you as you are, you don't have the same luxury of not showing up completely.

On top of it all, you hate yourself for feeling repulsed by him. You feel rotten and shitty and ungrateful. And there he is, being sweet to your kid! If it weren't for your boy, or the fact that he might support you, you might've given up by now.

You fell in love, which was easy. He is an easy person to love. Now you have to accept that he's not a dick, he's not made of magical dickhead fairy dust like the guys who disappear, who can't listen, who don't give a fuck about you. If you forced those so-called bad boys to stay, to be present, to help, they would seem lame, too. They would get wilty and weak upon closer inspection—they'd look much, much worse than your boyfriend, in fact. They just don't slow down enough for you to get a close look at them.

You're tortured by the notion that this guy will make you crazy forever, with his twitchy, timid, self-conscious shit. You know who else looks exactly like that? You do, when you're chasing a guy. You may think that you don't, but you're wrong. Neediness makes people look deflated and not so sexy.

Right around the time I got engaged to my husband, he started to look like the geekiest man alive to me. We went on a trip to Spain, and day after day we would drink beers together in beautiful places, and I'd think, "I'm going to spend the rest of my life listening to this twerp talk." He got terrible haircuts back then. He didn't know how to dress. When he said something he wasn't sure about, his mouth would do this weird downward-twitch thing on one side. It was the physical signal of him second-guessing himself. It was not cute.

He thought I was awesome, but I knew that I was sick inside, not good enough to be loved by him. I would scare him off and he would find some gorgeous, loving woman who was much, much better for him than me, and I would spend the rest of my life alone. All of my friends would say, "Through some miracle THAT MAN was crazy about you and you fucked it up? You really want to be alone don’t you?" They'd never listen to me complain about love again.

After trying to scare him off and hating myself for it, I finally confessed that I had lots of negative feelings and almost-cold feet. "I love you and I want to be with you, but I feel really guilty because I hate your hair. I hate the pants you wear. You're handsome and your pants are just awful. It's criminal, almost, how you cover up your pretty looks. And that thing you do with your mouth. Ugh. I know, I'm an asshole. I feel so shitty about what an asshole I am."

Instead of getting angry, it made him laugh. "I do wear bad pants," he said. So we talked about his twitchy mouth after that. I made it very clear that I wanted us to be together, that he didn't have to change anything but I DID have to talk about this stuff, not because he was bad, but because I didn't know how to show up and be in a relationship with a mortal human being without ripping them to shreds in my poisonous, unlovable brain.

Luckily, my husband understands the poisonous brain thing. He has an appreciation for complexity, for inner conflict, for the fact that you can say something terrible and admit to feeling things you don't want to feel and that doesn't change your love or your values or your commitments.

I don't know this for sure, but I'm going to bet that if you make your love and your values and your commitments clear, your boyfriend will understand about the other dark feelings that are plaguing you. You need to be clear about what you want, emotionally and sexually. If you don't want to be pawed, you have to say that. Men love a woman doing the dishes. Why? They can go fuck themselves. I don't want action when I'm washing shit.

In my opinion, great relationships between smart, complicated people are only possible when total honesty is in the mix. You won't accept this generous man in your life until you accept your own flaws enough to make them clear to him. You're judgmental and fault-finding. So am I. But you value generosity and gentleness. And you'll learn to tolerate neediness, even as it reminds you of yourself in ways that are uncomfortable.

This is a phase. You're getting serious. People have cold feet when they get serious. There is a difference between FUCK THIS, I HATE THIS RELATIONSHIP cold feet, and "Oh God, he's humming that song again, he is such a repugnant dork. I want Idris Elba instead!" Just because you have an overactive, brutal head doesn't mean that your heart wants him gone. I think your heart knows he matches you. The matching might be awkward and uncomfortable for you right now, but it's real. He is not an escape, like a "bad boy" is. He is right here, right now, human, normal, flawed.

If you can be open about your preferences and turn-offs, and be heard, if you can express yourself and ask him not to stigmatize or pathologize the things you desire, and if you can do the same for him somehow, then your relationship will grow past this. Visits are weird and intense—similar to spending two weeks in Spain with someone, thinking too much about every stupid little thing that they do. I think you have to be as honest as you can in order to get past this. You have to include your self-loathing, which is a huge part of this. You have to include your guilt, and your attraction, and your distaste. You have to say which things you want to go differently.

Maybe his timidity and pawing will always feel wrong. I want to caution you strongly to give yourself and him a chance before you take something small and use it as an excuse to bail. The sex, also, is all jammed up by your lack of acceptance—of him and of yourself. The sex might be amazing once there's more honesty in the mix. You can't possibly predict the outcome there without more time, and less poisonous, detached, confused thinking.

The stakes feel high. You aren't used to being loved. You don't really like being the one with more power, the one who's being chased. You'd frankly prefer to be the chaser. I'll bet your boyfriend prefers to be the chaser, too, and kind of likes that role. Maybe that's something to talk about together.

Trust me, though, that this phase doesn't last forever. If you have a career, if you have friends, if you have a full life, you don't sit around chopping apart your partner's flaws around the clock. You say that you don't have a lot going on, except for your son and him. You need to work on yourself, and make your life more complete, so that you don't make him such an area of extreme focus. Some of your discontent lies there. If you simply allow him to support you without bettering yourself, neither one of you will be happy.

But if you use the stability he's brought to your life to make your life more full and complete outside of him, then these tiny little things that seem tragic now will just seem like tiny little things down the road. Insecure tics are nothing, when they're accompanied by generosity and kindness and attraction. Once everything is out in the open? That's the beginning. It either works or it falls apart from there. You'll never even get to the starting line if you don't express what you need.

At the very end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this exact process begins: Two people who love and hate each other enter this crazy space of shoving it all in each other's faces. I'm sure lots of terrible couples have stayed together a little longer after seeing that movie. But to me, it's one of the most beautiful scenes, one of the truest and rarest expressions of real love that's ever been created. Because when you let someone into your life, there is ugliness and shock and fear and repulsion there. No one likes to admit that. You wonder if you'll be dragged down, dragged into someone else's flaws and messes. You wonder if their weaknesses will take over, if you'll spend the rest of your life tortured by their other-ness, their teensy tiny sounds and smells that fill up your space and sometimes seem to fuck with your good life. For a while, you hate the other person and you hate you and you hate the two of you, together. So inadequate, so insecure, so flinty and pushy and messy and wrong.

To me the moment of truth comes when you say it out loud: Look at me, hating you. Look at you, hating me. Look at us, how gorgeously our flaws match. How gorgeously we collide. Sometimes you have the strength to say these things, and the other person says (or, more often, implies): "No, I don't want you like this. I don't want the truth. I don't accept that I'm a mess. And I don't want to be with someone who is." And also: "Why are you crying? What did I do to deserve this shit?" And also: "If you loved me more, you wouldn't mention that I smell bad, or make weird noises, EVER." I've been there. There's this opportunity for connection, for acceptance, and the other person says FUCK THAT AND FUCK YOU.

Lots of people, LOTS AND LOTS OF FUCKING PEOPLE, really, truly don't want to connect. They just want to do what they do without being challenged or being forced to show up. They want to talk about the easy stuff, keep it light, ignore the trouble, keep the peace, don't look too hard at anything, and don't get too honest. There's another tier, above that: The people who want intimacy, but only on THEIR terms. They want access to an open person, sure, so they can turn that person on and off, like a faucet. Great when they happen to want you, not so great when you need something from them and they can't handle being needed.

But there are a few people who can show up. If they see that you want them to show up, they can show up. If you're present, they will find a way to be present, too. I think that's what you have in this man, even if you aren't quite there yet yourself. You're going to have to work to catch up with him. You should not see him as inferior. You're the one who needs to open your heart more. Because the moment that you look at another human being, and all of his flaws stand out so clearly, and you feel love, love, love? That's a moment of transcendence. That's real love. It's not chasing. It's not dickhead-fairy-dust-created magic. It's not swaggery sureness and photogenic sex. Real love is two flawed people, laughing together at all of their flaws, their gorgeously matched flaws.

Admit your anger and repulsion. These pesky little irritations are nothing. When you tell him the truth about what you're struggling with, if you do it with love and with the intention of accepting him, chances are good that he'll understand, and you'll be released from this shame you're feeling. Once that shame and guilt stops blocking everything else, you might find it easier to feel love for him again.

This is just where you are right now. It's ok that you're here. There are lots of reasons you're here. It's not your fault. You aren't used to this kind of love. This is brand new.

You may be on the verge of experiencing mutual acceptance and real commitment for the first time, and it feels scary. If you're very open and honest and vulnerable right now, though, you'll gain so much. Because real mutual acceptance doesn't mature into compromise or settling. Real acceptance blooms into a kind of mutual celebration of who you each are, separately and together. It's a celebration of the limitless possibilities of two people who are not afraid to honor each other's gently used souls. As Mary says in Eternal Sunshine, "Adults are this mess of sadness and phobias." You are flawed. He is flawed. Together, you are flawed. Together, you are amazing.


Do you wonder why you fall in love with every woman you see who shows you the least bit of attention? Write to Polly and she either will or will not yell at you!

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses.

83 Comments / Post A Comment

katastic (#101,081)

Best Ask Polly ever? Best Ask Polly ever, ever, ever.

Werner Hedgehog (#11,170)

I've been reading about adult attachment styles and LW sounds "avoidant". Characterizing her partner as "needy", for instance. She needs space and needs to let her partner know. Simultaneously, she needs to recognize his need for closeness.

If their relationship can progress to the point where they provide these things for each other reflexively and not as a response to an explicit request, she and he will find themselves in a place of independence and place of reassurance, respectively.

#56 (#56)

@Werner Hedgehog I'm interested in the subject of adult attachment styles. What do you recommend?

eva luna (#255,101)

@The Frozen Head of Dorothy Zbornak

Sorry to rain on your attachment style book parade (is it a parade? That's probably a terrible metaphor-), but that book is pseudo science and misuses attachment theory. My mother has taught graduate level courses on both adult and child attachment theory and we had a whole conversation about that book where she basically said it has nothing to do with actual attachment theory. Whether or not it helps people with relationships is a separate issue, of course.

Info on attachment theory below:

emilycecile (#255,413)

@eva luna
Eva Luna, would your mother have any books or articles on adult attachment theory to suggest? Maybe materials used in her course? I know a little bit about Bowlby's theory from a developmental psych class but I honestly had no idea that attachment theory was applied to adults as well (duh, it would make sense) and the idea fascinates me. Thanks.

@#56 and @emilycecile Attached by Levine & Heller about attachment styles, and the wonderful Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnston are great places to start.

Grouse (#263,884)

@Werner Hedgehog

I wish that the real Werner Herzog would produce a film that captures women's experience.

sajrocks (#2,067)

This. Is. Everything.

ragazza (#241,456)

Yes yes yes yes. You never hear about ladies putting guys on pedestals, but we do. And then when they reveal themselves to be actual flawed human beings with needs and insecurities, it's so horrifying. I have finally gotten to the point where I'm over this and have an awesome boyfriend who is absolutely not perfect, and he knows I am not perfect, and it is all wonderful.

Based on the title, I was concerned this would be about the non-metaphorical sort of chafing.

hec (#254,742)

Wow this was great. I'm not the only one who thinks 'he's a repugnant dork' and 'I want Idris Elba instead.' Now that I say that I realize those don't even sound like unique thoughts to be having in a relationship. But, yeah, this has really made me question whether I made a mistake in breaking up with someone who was perfect on paper but I felt was smothering me. I'm really questioning myself. I've also gotten to the point where I realize I want to be with someone sweet and responsible but haven't yet reached the point where I can be with that person without feeling like a grotesque asshole whenever he's around. I think reading this is going to make me a lot smarter in my next relationship.

SomebodyElse (#254,745)

Oh hey look, three sentences that completely sum up my problems. Thanks Polly!

"There's another tier, above that: The people who want intimacy, but only on THEIR terms. They want access to an open person, sure, so they can turn that person on and off, like a faucet. Great when they happen to want you, not so great when you need something from them and they can't handle being needed."

@SomebodyElse OMFG ME TOO.

Mr. B (#10,093)

DO tell him what you like in the sack, though. We dudes definitely want to hear that stuff.

PostMatron (#255,283)

@Mr. B Some men do, some don't.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I try to stay out of the fray on these things, but I have a question: What makes you think you really "love" this guy? Because I'm not seeing a whole hell of a lot.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@KarenUhOh Yeah, it's a classic case of having no fucking clue what love is and how it's supposed to feel like – almost certainly because you didn't get to learn as a child. It's a very difficult problem to correct, and it certainly can't be corrected wholly within a given relationship (although it doesn't necessarily mean that the relationship is definitely toast).

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@KarenUhOh Yup. Exactly this.

mochi (#232,676)

@Niko Bellic how do you think someone could overcome this?

giantrabbit (#250,411)

@KarenUhOh I was having the same thought. I went through a phase of only liking people who weren't good for me, and wanting someone 'good for me' and accidentally being an a-hole to a bunch of 'good guys' who didn't deserve to get steamrolled by my dumb idea that I could force myself to love someone just because they seemed like a decent respectable human being who didn't fall asleep next to a cat-sized pile of empty king cans every night.

I think, to be honest when you start liking 'good' guys, the fact of their goodness is not the only turn on, however it should be a turn on. I got pretty jumped up when my boyfriend offered to come over and sharpen my kitchen knives. I thought that was the heighteth of sexy. On the other hand he also offered to lean in and learn how to spank me. See these 'good' dudes are not good because they are cloying, they are good because they fucking wanna get in there and give it 110%. Also the other sexy stuff has to be sexy, do you laugh together still would be my question – does the writer of this letter have any desire to paw her partner at inappropriate times or is the pawing all unidirectional.

Do not 'fake love' nice guys who should have 'real love' because that is a really unfair circumstance.

Jen@twitter (#241,393)

I'd say something like 90% of all adult relationship problems (doesn't matter if they are romantic or not) can be solved by COMMUNICATING. LW needs to talk to this guy about everything she wrote here.

beetnemesis (#247,919)

Good answer, although it needs a final sentence: "Also, you're in a long-distance relationship that's been going on for 5 months. It's OK to break it off."

Wow this column really hit me in the soft parts. Amazing stuff!

Also: why WHY do men want to molest me when I'm doing the dishes? PLEASE STOP.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@Subway Suicide@twitter Haha every man who's gotten up in my business while I was washing dishes has seen me as far more of a maternal figure to take care of them than I am comfortable with. My current spouse is cool with me because he dries them and puts them away. Makeouts are for later.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Subway Suicide@twitter Because they have seen far too many sitcoms and movies where this nonsense is rewarded with a playful "Oh, honey"/swat combination, followed by canoodling. Remind them that the kitchen is where the knives are and they'll stay the hell out.

Myrtle (#9,838)

@Kevin Knox "The Kitchen Is Where The Knives Are" =treasure. Somebody, sell me this, embroidered on a dish towel.

En Vague (#82)

Moral of the story: Bad pants = Dealbreaker.

testingwithfire (#244,161)

Came in to say that if LW is honest (without being hurtful, just honest) as Polly suggests and the guy gets scared off, LW just did herself a favor.

This is horrific. I mean, why are all you ladies doing the dishes? THAT IS MAN'S WORK.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@ContainsHotLiquid Well, I tend to do the dishes because I can't fry an egg without it turning out both raw and burnt, so my husband does 99% of the cooking unless it's his freaking birthday or something. He swears he loves it. I don't get it. Also, he hates dishes and I like them (I know, weird).

Something Clever (#254,751)

Oh THIS so much! Thank you Polly. I'm 6 months away from a wedding and sometimes I find myself getting so scared and pissy with my partner that I think the whole thing is a huge mistake. This, even though he is awesome and kind and oh-so understanding and I come from this awful/weird/abusive background so I KNOW I have work to do. But when you start panicking because you hate how they leave their clothes on the floor or meow at you like a cat (no really, this is a thing) it makes you get all head-fucked. Thanks you for reminding me that it can be okay to feel annoyed at your partner's flaws. More talking, more honesty.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

I don't know, maybe I am alone in this, but I feel like this letter writer falls into the "time to break up" camp. As someone above noted, she is in a long distance relationship and it's only been 5 months. This is a really telling sentance for me:
"I don't have the financial resources to pursue hobbies or interests, and this man offers stability."

1. She needs hobbies and interests that don't cost money.
2. This man offers stability.

Look, sometimes people get irritated by each other in relationships, but also you should have a fair amount of getting excited to see each other (even in situations where you live together!). You should have moments of just feeling good hanging out together saying nothing. You should you should, I know. But still! Besides an "I love him," I'm not convinced that you are with him for the right reasons.

Being alone can be terrifying! Especially when your last relationship was with someone who abused you. In my early twenties, I suffered through a string of abusive relationships and then latched on immediately to the first guy who was NICE. I mean, we got along, we shared a sense of humor, he was weird and goofy and I really did love him- but there was something wrong. It turns out that we just weren't compatible for a lot of reasons, the most important being that he absolutely hated me being happy when he wasn't. He wouldn't YELL at me, no, but he would play wet-blanket all day and resist any attempts I made to cheer him up (it was our one day together and I worked six days a week so I needed to not be sad on that one day a week!) until I cried from frustration, and then he'd be sorry.

Is he terrible? No. But he and I weren't good for each other.

TL;DR Don't be with someone because they are better than your last relationship and you feel you need SOMEONE and maybe you can't do better. Be with someone because you are, if not your best self, your whole and honest and complete self with them.

bananalise (#13,738)

@Xenu01 YES! I came down here to see if I was the only one thinking, wait, what? She's telling the LW to settle for someone who thoroughly turns her off after 5 months? Polly consistently nails it, but this one makes me uneasy. I just don't see anything in him that recommends him as a partner to this particular LW.

sunnyciegos (#551)

@Xenu01 I'm also in the break-up camp. I think the LW is figuring out what love is. What she feels for this guy is not love. But it's part of the journey that will get her there. I was with a super nice guy who drove me f-ing nuts with his tics and attention. Guess what I learned? I wasn't in love with him! It's easy for me to say now that I'm with someone who DOESN'T make my skin crawl. LW: If he makes your skin crawl, your body is telling you something. Let him go, spend some time with yourself and your child, and someone who is actually a match for you will come along.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@bananalise I actually think this is part and parcel of what it's like to learn to have normal relationships when your sense of relationships is so twisted by an unhealthy one. Perhaps the new partner is not abusive (though I find the weedling, non-assertive, need-all-your-attention needy nice-guy stuff- off-putting- maybe it's not abuse, but it's certainly something). However, he is demanding too much of LW's scant resources, which she really needs to protect right now.

bananalise (#13,738)

@Xenu01 Yeah, she seems to think she deserves this guy as…penance? or something? for her past dalliances with Bad Boys. Like this is just what she deserves and it's the only alternative to abuse, and she assumes she just doesn't get it because she doesn't love herself enough. It's just a different form of the abused mindset of taking the blame.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@bananalise You are right on my wavelength!

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@sunnyciegos That whole thing about loving yourself is a cliche because it's so freaking TRUE.

WilloLovesYou (#254,863)

@Xenu01 YES!! Like @bananalise, I too was hoping someone would say this!

I just completed a relationship with an amazing, giving, loving man. He was truly everything I asked for when I opened myself up to dating earlier this year, and I'm so grateful for our time together.

But, after 4 months of dating long-distance, I realized I was trying to talk myself into it. Why wouldn't I stay with someone so loving, and generous? Even when I would tell him what I wanted, and what I didn't like, he was STILL into me, and willing to work on it. Perfect, right? "Stupid, fucked up me for not being into it!" NO. I may not have the best relationship history, but I do know this:

• I am very capable of giving and receiving love
• I am not afraid of intimacy, I love it and have it in many areas of my life
• I have agency and choice, for my body, my heart, my time, my relationships

The red alert in her letter, to me, is that she's beating herself up (which others have mentioned here, too) for having these feelings, like it's all her fault, or something is wrong with her.

No doubt this is new. Being loved. Having a man show up and truly be there. It's wonderful. But it doesn't mean this man is right for her.

You're evolving. You've learned a lot about yourself, about relationships, about love. This one is close, but it may not be quite right, and that's OK.

No woman should feeling like they "have to" stay in a relationship, because they're afraid they'll never find a man who will love them like this again. (You don't even like the way he's loving you, so that's a good thing!) Instead, learn from this, and remember YOU HAVE CHOICE.

Your life is far from over. You have a beautiful child. You know yourself better now than ever before, and you have the opportunity to choose how you want to feel, and who you want to be with.

This is not your fault. Stop justifying the reasons why you're "putting up with it" and instead ask yourself if you desire this man. Do you want to be with him? Regardless of everything he gives you, do you want him? It is perfectly OK to say no, and it is completely ok if you decide – after gathering and learning from the information you have now, after these exploratory months – that it is time to complete this relationship.

(Loving the conversation that's sprung from this post!!)

WilloLovesYou (#254,863)

Also, not sure this is quite right for the "Annoyed" woman, but I found this recently & it's spot on for strong, independent women like me who attract very sweet & giving men:

holmac3 (#254,905)

@WilloLovesYou I totally agree. And I think it's simple: she's just not into him. The honeymoon phase is over and once the dust settled, she's just not feeling it. I personally have had some pretty amazing boyfriends – the one that I consider "perfect" just didn't make me laugh, and we grew apart because we had very different interests eventually. Spot-on chemistry is very hard to find. But I have faith that once all of us do, we will know it. My grandmother used to always give me a hard time for not being married yet. I told her, "I'm not just going to marry someone because they're nice. If that's the case, I could have married 20 of my guy friends. I'm only going to marry someone I have that special chemistry with" – just because you're close friends and he's nice doesn't mean you belong together. I'm not convinced that the past has anything to do with it (Because I was in an amazing relationship with zero baggage back @23 and a great happy past; so clearly that's not the issue). Keep hoping, keep listening to your instincts, and you will find the right one!

Typhimurium (#255,527)


Thanks for putting this out there! I broke up with a sweet, caring, nurturing guy several months ago because of problems like those of Annoyed. I was hoping that Polly would say something that would make me feel a little more secure about my decision, which my friends generally agreed was the best for me. Until I spotted your comment, I was feeling awful that I had done the exact opposite of her advice.

At the end of the day, my ex and I simply weren't compatible. He defines himself in terms of how he can help others, while I'm individualistic. The way he went about helping me made me feel like less of a person, even though he was very feminist. I'm happiest when I can stand on my own two feet, and he's happiest when he's looking after someone else's needs. This dynamic was pretty upsetting to me; I wanted him to celebrate when I was handling things on my own, rather than being mopey when he didn't have anything to 'fix'. It felt like he was being nurturing to fulfill his own needs, rather than being truly attentive to what I wanted.

Maybe that alone wouldn't be enough to justify breaking up, but we also didn't connect intellectually. He was also intimidated by my kinks. Since I'm still pretty young, and was moving away, I decided not to drag things out for a second year and ended it.

At the same time, I did give the whole thing a fair chance. But like Annoyed, I got a sinking feeling around the 4 month mark. If Annoyed doesn't like the attitude/motivation that her beau has when he helps her, she might want to reconsider staying with him. "Helper" types of people are not always the most mature – sometimes people are 'helping' for the wrong reasons. As a person who needs to work on being more helpful, it was hard for me to perceive this as a problem at first. But it's DEFINITELY a thing that some people have difficulty with, and Annoyed's beau could be one of these people.

22319182@twitter (#254,758)

This sounds tacky as hell, but I think this is quite genuinely one of those things I have been waiting to read/hear for my entire life.

913372052@twitter (#254,760)

Whenever I've gotten to that point with a partner where his tics drive me nuts or turn me off, it's time for me to say goodbye. To me, the letter writer doesn't sound like she's got to hang in there so much as she has to get out. He's a good guy, genuinely. He's good on paper. He holds out the promise of much-needed stability to her. But it really sounds like she's trying to force a relationship (on her end) with someone she's fundamentally incompatible with, and that's not fair to either partner.

My ex's lip would curl when he talked, and I hated it, hated his mouth, couldn't stand to look at him. That extreme reaction to such a minor tic told me a lot about how I really felt about the guy. I felt like he pawed at me when I wanted to be caressed. We just weren't compatible. Since that relationship ended 2.5 years ago, I've decided that some things in relationships need to be easy (like physical/sexual intimacy) to get through the inevitable tough stuff.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@913372052@twitter YUP

perfectdayelise (#254,762)

@913372052@twitter I don't know, I'd agree with Polly, mostly because of the 'up all night, laughing together' thing when they first met. It suggests there was an actual spark. And I had almost the exact same reaction to my boyfriend. We had been friends for a long time and had a deep connection, but intimacy freaked me out; I was relating to him in a new way and it was scary. Once I got past the fear, everything fell into place. And as he became more secure, he got more confident and attractive too. This guy 'pawing' at the letter writer is probably because he can tell she's not fully sure about the relationship and is looking for reassurance. Not very attractive, but being honest might force him into a new role. Only the LW can figure out if the repulsion she's feeling is fundamentally about her partner's personality or to do with fear, and the only way to find out is to be honest with her partner. They might just be incompatible after all, but it's good to see a column dispelling the myth that love has to feel like lust 100% of the time, straightaway.

phrenologist (#254,828)

@913372052@twitter I totally agree with Perfectdayelise (and LOVE the reference!). Maybe Polly could have focused more on the possibility that this guy simply isn't right for her, but I appreciate her taking doubt ("Is he right/wrong for me?" "Is it me/him?") off the table, because those unanswerable questions can be a place to hide, when Polly is advocating "showing up" and being vulnerable instead. That is, in fact, the only way to begin to know if this could be a fulfilling relationship. I would never underestimate the power of some monstrous part of our minds to destroy good things.

@913372052@twitter I get where you are coming from, but it's also totally possible to have AWESOME, UNDENIABLE physical chemistry with someone who is wrong for you in every way. It can't just be the only thing, and often I think it's misleading.

913372052@twitter (#254,760)

@Subway Suicide@twitter I definitely agree chemistry isn't sufficient on its own, but I think it's necessary.

perfectdayelise (#254,762)

@phrenologist YEAAHH YOU GOT THE REFERENCE. And yes, 913372052@twitter, she needs chemistry to happen, because a relationship with no chemistry is lacking, but… 'The power of some monstrous part of our minds to destroy good things' is a great phrase. Being squicked out by trust and intimacy is a likely scenario for this woman, due to her history of abuse, and that can really get in the way of physical attraction. I wouldn't normally advocate staying with a partner who repulses you, but she's clearly reluctant to write him off, and there might be something more going on. I've had relationships with intense chemistry and no trust at all; the chemistry I have now is much deeper, but didn't arrive in the same direct and uncomplicated way, possibly because I'd been hurt before. I was more wary, and the stakes were higher, so lust interacted with love in a way that I hadn't previously imagined; I was attracted, then scared and repulsed, which only passed when I realised I could really trust this person and be open with them. Bad boys are not a lasting prospect, so if you are scared of vulnerability and change, they are less unsettling than the good man who might actually stick around. I don't think she should stay with him just because he's a 'nice guy' if she doesn't feel physically into him, it's the background of destructive relationships that makes me think she should give him more of a chance.

phrenologist (#254,828)

@perfectdayelise Lots of awesome Pollys around here!
And on the topic of this thread: not everyone is so lucky as to have attachment and sexual attraction overlap perfectly. Sometimes they are actually on opposite sides of the ring, prepared to duke it out.

Istealyourpie (#167,755)

Seems like she is making herself want to love him but is not really ready for a relationship with a regular flawed dude who is decent. She has not done the work on why she still likes bad guys so this relationship sounds doomed. Free him up for somebody who will appreciate him and find some affordable counseling.

lancelancerson (#254,831)

She's just not that attracted to him – maybe he really is a submissive dork and that's not the right guy for her. There's a difference between a non-jerk and a guy that makes your skin crawl.
"I don't have the financial resources to pursue hobbies or interests, and this man offers stability" doesn't sound reassuring.

Lesbanality (#254,770)

This is the second time in a row you've hit it out of the park, Polly/Heather. So beautiful and so right that I had to create a account just to tell you that.

Spot on Polly! Spot on!
When you don't love yourself it takes time to love someone who loves you!

b3k (#12,241)

I'm just always amazed by Heather's husband's tolerance for her brand of neg-love. If I was constantly writing on the Internet about how my wife dressed like shit and had bad hair and annoyed the hell out of me… But I still love her! I think I would no longer have a wife.

aranchno42 (#248,764)

I haven't even finished Polly's response yet because her first paragraph truth bombed me SO FUCKING HARD.

I feel so so lucky (and maybe surprised) for myself for daring to love a nice, doting man after years of being with detached men. I know so many say to "fully love yourself first" but timing isn't always perfect and I wasn't going to let go of a good man because I was still emotionally wonky. But boy have I been motivated to live up to my full potential…for him, yes, but so much for me. I've shown up.

oldflame (#235,977)

This really reminded me of the last few dates I had. All these people were so nice and interested in me, but it sort of creeped me out. Why? It's now obvious that I was disturbed by their willingness to be vulnerable, when I am so very uncomfortable with that. I can't admit I like someone because they (or everyone else) will make fun of me for it.

I get really irritated by people who seem submissive or needy because I absolutely cannot be that way with 99% of people. It also makes me feel like I have to be the strong one because if we're both weak disaster will follow. Coming back to my mother being emotionally unstable and trying as a kid not to contribute to that.

I want to be with someone I can be weak and vulnerable around, but I guess I shouldn't assume that someone making themselves vulnerable doesn't mean they can't handle my vulnerability as well.

Wow, unexpected lunch-time therapy session. Thanks, Polly.

alliepants (#204,157)

@oldflame SO with you. Though I think it's important to distinguish between "nice and interested" and "possessive and emotionally manipulative." For example, men you never actually enter into a relationship with, but who still expect a lot of emotional availability from you, despite the fact that you haven't signaled that you're willing to be emotionally available at all. That's its own sort of warning sign. But "nice and interested" is usually just nice! Took me a lot of dates to figure that one out.

alliepants (#204,157)

Also I absolutely loved this column, because god, do I miss the cold-feet stage of a relationship when you start to notice that the person doesn't always smell nice and is kind of weird and annoying sometimes. It's like, yes, they're a dork, but they're MY dork.

Kakabel (#254,874)

Dear Annoyed, you are not ready for a healthy adult relationship. Please allow this wonderful, rare breed of man to go on with his life. You will not find love until you love yourself. I drained the youth from a good girl myself, because I was not ready. Do not be jaded: You WILL grow-up! And maybe this Mr. Right will still be "on the market" to receive the same quality love he is able to give. I was once lost in nightmares, now I'm livin' the dream!

bkallday (#254,948)

I just created an account for the sole purpose of saying YOU FUCKING NAILED IT. Thank you for writing this. And all the commenters! You are also nailing it. This is free therapy. Why am I such a judgmental shallow monster? I literally considered cutting it off because this guy said "cool beans." And his shoes were goofy. Everyone keeps saying "you should date him, he's such a good guy." And there I am texting my crappy ex boyfriend who treats me like shit because I am still so attracted to him. JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL.

Dear Annoyed, PLEASE, Read ~ and get your boyfriend to read also ~ The Way of the Superior Man ~ David Deida, you will not be disappointed, I promise you :-) It will explain things for you both, about loving the feminine in a manner that I have never heard expressed anywhere else before…with much advice and many insights that are both simple and exquisitely beautiful. <3

JennFizz (#172,488)

You don't have to love someone or be with someone just because they are nice to you.

Myrtle (#9,838)

"When the gods wish to punish us, they give us what we want." I've finally had this come true for me in the relationship dept. After many years, I've remet a man and discovered I love him. We have more stories behind us then perhaps are in front of us, but his flaws make him perfect to me. I love his ethics, his ability to follow things through, his spectacular art. I know his past and he knows mine, but I love that our dreams for the future mesh so closely. It's been easy to be disappointed by others. What's ahead, now, is the potential for something very different. We are both afraid; I hope we can get past that.

alicesherman (#237,158)

@Myrtle this is a real thing you wrote. Huh.

One thing that helps is humor. It doesn't sound like between his saintliness, and her repulsion at his saintliness, that either of these two people are having fun. Role play. It's not hard to start having fun. Youjust have to start doing it. I watch "Cape Fear" with my SO, and he starts calling me "Danny." I mention how occasionally I am still in love with really bad boyfriend Mr X, and he mentions that the guy's penis is a mini. He draws cartoons of his torso with that mini. A very mini, mini penis that needs a microscope to find it. Etc.

Making up absurdities helps a lot. It can extend from past bad boyfriends to current day terrible co workers or evil bosses. Laugh at the world. The first few times you attempt it deliberately, it might be artificial, but humor keeps people together just as much as improving the guy or gal's haircut (Not that haircuts are not important.)

"I don't want my son to have a bad boy for a father figure"

No, you don't want him to have any father figure. You want to smother him in your mommy juices.

Paddy (#255,061)

This is EXACTLY what David Delgado writes about and talks about in his seminars.
Women do NOT want the nice guy – they want the bad boy trouble maker.
I so wish I had learned that 35 years ago.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

@Paddy — Some do, some don't. The smarter ones get bored with bad boys, because bad boys are pretty limited by their badness.

Ian Wanker@facebook (#255,164)

Dear Annoyed,

Don't worry, I'm sure you soon will leave him for the loser you truly desire. Nature has a way of taking care of everything. Your primal urges will quickly overcome any semblance of reason you may have.

And what about having a kind and mature father-figure for your child? Let's not kid ourselves — that doesn't really matter to you. Pooping out more rug-rats with a degenerate does.

Jed Smith@facebook (#16,415)

The treacly stench of solipsism is all over this comment thread like a bad Upworthy link (redundant).

The Duchess (#255,348)

Thank you ANNOYED, YOU ARE NOT ALONE…. you have brilliantly described me and many others I know and I have a solution, so stay with me – however in the meantime, Polly is the one in denial here. She makes some valid comments admittedly – about loving ourselves and the knock on effects of dating bad boys yada yada (we KNOW this Polly, we've spent our lives analyzing these negative patterns, how do you think we ended up dating Mr Tumnus,this is us trying to change the habit – IT DOESN'T WORK ANNOYED). Polly – you are in lala land, you're in Narnia ffs (with Mr Tumnus god help you). THIS man makes ANNOYED feel REPULSED.

THIS IS NO MORE OF A BASIS FOR A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP THAN THE PLAYBOYS….I don't actually regret any the bad boys, despite all of the dysfunction and heartache – they were sexy, magnetic, charismatic. I felt alive. Yet, I do not want another bad boy.

However my one experience with a scarily similar beta man to ANNOYED's continues to make me feel disgust every day, the thought of him makes me feel sick inside and yes partly as a mirror of how needily i may have behaved in the past, but ultimately he made me feel like the elevator doors had opened and I was stuck on the wrong floor. FOREVER.

ANNOYED – get the hell out of that one honey, you will ultimately break his heart and you will feel even worse. You and your son will be fine. You do not need to settle just to have a father figure for your son, you will meet someone else in time who will be better for you both as it will be a two way street. TRUST ME, THERE IS A MIDDLE GROUND FOR US AND THE MANY OTHER WOMEN JUST LIKE US…I wake up every day, relieved that I didn't settle for "Mr Tumnus" and that the future is still full of possibilities, passable sex at least and a relationship that makes me excited about the future.

deadhorse (#255,789)

this doesn't sound like love at all. it sounds like you're forcing yourself to put up with him in order to gain access to his resources. you're not physically/emotionally/psychologically attracted to him, and yet you value his money and the stability he has to offer just barely enough to tolerate your lack of attraction to him. sounds just like my mother. and man, was my childhood hell because of it. this is the reason i choose to remain single. and childless, if it really comes to that. i'd rather focus on building a career, or doing the things that i love to do, than compromise on something as important as family and relationships. a cold world for myself? maybe so. but a less complicated one for sure.

I think there's so much wisdom here. I agree that it doesn't seem so much a tailored response to the letter writer, and after reading the question, I was expecting a response much less confident than the one written. I nonetheless love where Polly took things, and I wanted a lot of my friends to read this. I related to both sides.

tchelen (#255,991)

I really appreciated Polly's well thought out response. I have been sick of the "pat" answers that come out of most advice columnist's mouths/pens. This response is refreshing and has depth. Many readers have also made some great points about it being okay to leave a relationship when it is not jelling and not to beat yourself up about it…just another form of abuse. I also agree with this, however, I think it is important to remember that "annoyed" has been having a long distance relationship and the intensity of having concentrated visits only when he is in town adds a lot of extra pressure. I have found in the past that this extra pressure can leave me feeling trapped to "make it work" and therefore I actually become less available to the person I am visiting with and more annoyed by them. If it was 5 months dating in the same city…there is more time/space and less pressure to figure out where things are heading. Also, the writer mentioned that the man she is dating stated that he felt out of his depth…I am wondering specifically in what ways he feels out of his depth. Might be good to explore in some open communication.

kzanderful (#256,819)

David Deida, 'Way of the Superior Man'!! Polarity change causes repulsion and what to do about it. Amazing stuff.

nearsanfran (#256,970)

Unfortunately, it sounds like either he may not be the right person for her (truly a mismatch) or she is not ready for this relationship and this type of person. Either one can be true. He really may not be the person she is supposed to be with; however, she may have unfinished business that is preventing her from being truly there and able to receive true and authentic love from another person. It sounds like a similar situation that I was in and I met a horrible person who ended up being quite the con artist. He had me completely fooled and we had a baby together. I gave him the option of leaving and completely being absent from my son's life when I found out who he really was (from his teenage daughters). I have raised my son (who is now 14) and doing very well without his bio dad in the picture. He has my dad and my ex boyfriend (who he considers and calls his dad) and my future husband as his father figures. It was not all how I planned my life, but it really does work out in a nontraditional way and my son is very loved by his "dad figures". Back to the relationship part….. I met a man three years ago who was kind, present,and loving. He showed up with flowers, did nice things for me, was the sweetest man in the world (all which may not have been something I would have been attracted to in the past – bad boy and artist history in past relationships). After my relationship ended with the man who my son calls dad (6 year relationship and still best of friends to this day – years later)I realized I had an issue. I was the common denominator to the relationships I had first chosen, helped to create (both good traits and bad traits), and stayed in, participated in and eventually ended. I not only worked on myself for those two years to heal the whole attraction to bad boys thing, but I became clear and able to accept this wonderful man that I was asking for. I went on an online dating site and because time was tight (raising a son), I would meet those I was interested in for a quick cup of coffee or a brief lunch to see if it was something mutually worth exploring. I put it out there that I was just looking for one person and I would meet people, but I was looking for "the one". This is way longer than I expected to write, but stick with me :)All of this was NOT the plan when I first had my son, but it was the way my life was going. After two years online, I was ready to give up. I had an aha moment where I finally said, "Enough of all of this…. if I am looking for this man that I wrote down on paper with all of these great qualities, the one thing I have to do besides the self-growth and introspection I have done in the last two years is to be willing to go all in and be vulnerable and capable of accepting real love into my life. I kid you not….. my fiance' emailed me that day from the online site. We began corresponding and I noticed he was so different. He had done self-growth work, he was sensitive, kind, attentive, and amazingly wonderful in every way (for me). It turns out that all of the great men I had gone out with and all of the not great men were not right for me, but in addition,l I was not ready to receive that type of love into my life until that day. Call it what you want (divine intervention, the universe attending to my wishes, luck, whatever), I met the man that allowed me to have kindness and love and actually find that to be amazing and sexy and awesome. Fast forward three years in January….. we are madly in love, we are very good to one another, we have an amazingly healthy relationship (I have one under my belt:) now) and bring out the best in one another. The little idiosyncrasies that would get on my nerves in the past just are not there…. let me repeat that, it is not that I am stuffing them away or dismissing them. He has shown up in so many wonderful ways in my life and my son's life and makes me happier than I have ever been (no comparison or frame of reference to anything I have ever experienced before). He does not get on my nerves, his little quirks do not make me twitch….the connection we have is amazing so instead, they make him who he is. We can both dork out together, we can be ourselves, we can fall flat on our faces with a joke gone all wrong, and it is makes us who we are and we have a beautiful gig going on. Back to the original point… this may be the wrong person for her or it might be the wrong time in which she is not ready for this type of love and attention. The bottom line is never settle and never use someone for their stability because it robs both of you of your true match. If it is something worth looking into, work together to see if it is right for both of you. If it is not, then let him go on his journey because he sounds like he deserves more than what you are giving to him.

Mark Wade (#257,086)

Amen sister. If it were easy, it wouldn't be love.

Adriana34 (#258,302)

He physically repulsed her…
Are not relationships based on chemistry?-if it wasn't so, we would date anyone who we have as friends-this is what actually happened IMO. Annoyed went for the need of relationship and security more than actually for what should be the reason-the man! That is the opposite of reaction-action natural behaviour we work on without planning. Unless the man doesn't mind she is not happy with his sexual needs and is ok with constant criticising-which would be wrong, he too deserves someone who desires him. Excuse of money and support-it is fine if you are with your hubbie for 20 years and see that as good thing when your passion faded (but you still remember you started being crazy for each other at the beginning or for some time at least).
She needs to stop going for extremes-next time she meets that type she has chemistry with-check for personality, slow down don't sex it up and see if person is worth time and cares-despite you feel like mad desperate for sex-those who are worth will be better with someone who does not seem to be easy pit stop, while has a son. Maybe surprise them with respect for yourself and if they wait and stay around, they will see that worthy woman in there. I know is tight chance-but I think any man will go for someone who is so willing, just to use them, especially knowing there is child-they will move on quick or be 'bad' just to shake off that woman they see as desperate (though she may be just so quick fallen for him) with a child-scared to be expected to settle and provide. Like yourself! they wanted just sex and everything else annoys them. As for the good guy-you want the security and everything else annoys you.

Gali Golan@facebook (#261,752)

Em. I respectfully disagree, at least in part. She's not talking about finding a few irritating habits almost unbearable for some reason. HE MAKES HER SKIN CRAWL. SHE DOESN'T LIKE HIS PAWING. PAWING. That is not the way you talk about someone you're attracted to.

Which is something that is not mentioned throughout: is the LW actually *attracted* to that "kind, gentle, doting man?" Heather mentioned being irritated that her then-fiance was covering his "pretty body." LW writer said nothing of her BF's physical attributes, or her attraction to same.

Just that the sex is bad, he's not very good at it, and doesn't really show any aptitude towards learning to be better. Also when he touches her she feels PAWED AT. ALL THE TIME.

That is bad, period.

LW, please, break up with him now. For your sake, for HIS sake, for your kid's sake. For whatever reason – there's no chemistry. He does not turn you on. You are not sexually compatible.

That is not anybody's fault. I am sure he is indeed kind, gentle, sweet, and devoted. Maybe that's what turns you off. Maybe Heather's right. But you don't stay with someone who makes your skin crawl all the time. You deserve better. And so does he – especially if he is indeed all you way. He deserves someone who eagerly anticipates his touch, and does not feel PAWED AT (sorry I keep going on about it – I find it horrifying) whenever he reaches for her.

So break up with him, and find a good therapist to work on your issues, and on why you think you only deserve bad boys who mistreat you, or sweet, gentle men whose touch you find repulsive.

When you figure that out, you'll be ready to find a sweet, gentle, kind, devoted man, who will be amazing with your kid, adore you, and make you want to strip his clothes off at every opportunity. ESPECIALLY in the initial stages of the physical relationship, and when you see each other only once a month (!!!! you should be putting that kid to bed early and ripping each other's clothes off whenever you see each other at this stage!!).

Do this before you talk yourself into marrying him, and maybe even having another kid with him, and then either cheating on him (or at least really wanting to) or breaking up with him 15 years down the line out of sheer disgust and sexual frustration. And it'll be a lot more complicated then, and a lot more damaging – especially to your kid, and to any other kid(s) you may have by then.

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